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Keeping it in the family

Venus and Serena Williams advance to the French Open final and lock up Nos. 1 and 2; Agassi out in four sets.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002


PARIS -- A Williams will be No. 1, a Williams will be No. 2, and the French Open final is Williams vs. Williams. How's that for fulfilling a father's prophecy?

Serena Williams tossed her racket 10 feet into the air after outlasting defending champion Jennifer Capriati 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 in a baseline bashfest 11/2 hours before older sister Venus Williams powered past Clarisa Fernandez 6-1, 6-4 in Thursday's second semifinal.

"History is definitely being made," Serena said. "Hopefully, one of us will win the French Open. Well, obviously, one of us will win the French Open."

When the new WTA Tour rankings are released Monday they'll be the first siblings to sit 1-2: Serena's semifinal victory pushes her past Capriati to a career-best second, and Venus was assured of overtaking Capriati at No. 1.

Before the women took Center Court, the men's quarterfinals were completed, as was Andre Agassi's bid for an eighth major title in a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 loss to 11th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Marat Safin eliminated Sebastien Grosjean 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, and Alex Corretja, last year's runner-up, completed a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, 7-5 victory over Andrei Pavel, who had just three hours of sleep after returning from Germany after the birth of his son.

Today, Ferrero plays in his third straight French Open semifinal, facing Safin, the only man to make the semifinals at the last three majors. Corretja plays Albert Costa in an all-Spanish semifinal. It's the second time since 1998 that a trio of Spaniards made the semifinals, but that stat isn't as impressive as what the Williams sisters have done.

Not once in the 20th century did siblings meet for a Grand Slam title, and this will be the second time in nine months. Venus beat Serena 6-2, 6-4 in September's U.S. Open final, the first at a major between sisters since Wimbledon in 1884.

That lackluster match was typical of their encounters. The sisters never play as well against each other as they do against anyone else.

"We've reached the best of our profession," said Venus, who holds a 5-2 edge in family faceoffs. "Actually, I'd like to stay No. 1, but I'd like to see Serena No. 1, also. I'm not giving it up, but I'm sure she'll get there."

Their father, Richard Williams, long has predicted -- to the scoffing of some -- that his daughters eventually would collect a bunch of major titles and be Nos. 1 and 2. Williams, who didn't make the trip to Paris, learned the game from magazines and videos so he could coach his girls, and he likes to say he knew when Venus was 4 she would be a star.

"Serena will be the best on the WTA Tour," he said in 1998. "But Venus has a lot of pride and nothing will get in the way of her getting to No. 1 first."

After Saturday's final the family total will rise to six Grand Slam singles titles. Serena got the first, at the 1999 U.S. Open, and Venus has won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the past two years.

Neither had been past the quarterfinals at the French Open before, but Venus has lost just 29 games in six matches and Serena stopped Capriati's 12-match Grand Slam winning streak.

Venus needed 19 minutes to win the first set against the 87th-ranked Fernandez, the first unseeded semifinalist at Roland Garros since Capriati in 1990, and didn't allow a winner by the Argentine until late in the match.

It was a lopsided undercard after the main event. Serena-Capriati was emotional throughout, with both players pumping fists, yelling at themselves and producing stellar strokes.

The tenor of the match was established on the last point of the fourth game. There were enough shots to fill a highlight film, including saves of a lob and a net cord, until Serena's drop shot fell short. When the point ended, Serena took a knee at the baseline and put her racket on the ground and Capriati grabbed the top of the net and leaned on it.

The normally tireless Capriati -- she won last year's final 12-10 in the third set and erased four match points in rallying to win the Australian Open in January -- wore down. At 6-5 in the second set she had a ball boy take her racket to her chair and bring her a new one.

Serena took command of the tiebreaker by stringing together a 106 mph ace, a 116 mph service winner and a sharply angled backhand to get to 6-2. Capriati then double-faulted.

Serena went up 4-2 in the final set by converting her sixth break point when Capriati erred with a drop shot on the rally's 20th stroke.

"When every point means so much, you can't really afford to make mistakes," said Capriati, who has lost five straight matches against Serena. "That probably put more pressure on both of us, too. You feel more tense."

Serena had 76 unforced errors -- "That's scary!" she said -- and Capriati 60. Capriati's 10 groundstroke winners were 18 fewer than Serena's.

Also scary was Agassi's performance in his loss. He let out a primal scream, his frustration spilling over at one of his 87 unforced errors.

The 1999 French champion even mocked one of his own shots, waving his arms and doing a curtsy in the loss to Ferrero, who is 10 years younger than Agassi and used to watch the American star on television.

Agassi, 32, completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros three years ago and knows that even though he's fit enough to stay with the 20-somethings, time is not in his favor.

"I suppose for me this one has always been the most difficult to win, and I felt like I was here giving myself a chance," Agassi said. "I think you get more aware of it as you get older. But I still like my game in most scenarios out there."

HINGIS TO SKIP WIMBLEDON: Martina Hingis, who had ankle surgery in May, withdrew from Wimbledon.

The 21-year-old Swiss star, who won Wimbledon in 1997, also missed the French Open after an operation to repair ligaments in her left ankle.

Wimbledon runs June 24-July 7.

The French Open is the first Grand Slam tournament Hingis has missed since turning professional in 1994.

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